Schipperke Dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Originally called «Spits» or «Spitske», the Schipperke dog breed is native to Belgium and dates back to the 16th century.  In their area of origin, these dogs are considered small shepherd dogs, but there have been many debates whether they should be considered as sheep dogs or spitz.

They are clever and curious, and very well-appreciated companions, especially by children. Schipperkes are also very intelligent and easy to train, and their distinctive looks have made them even more popular throughout the centuries.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessAbove Average
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Companion Dogs
Height:10 inches to 1 foot, 3 inches tall at the withers
Weight:11 to 18 pounds
Life Span:13 to 15 years

Many state that Schipperke dogs are «large dogs in small dogs’ bodies». They are fearless and always ready to defend their families and homes. Some even call them «little black devils» for their alertness, energy and stubborn behavior.

At the end of the 19th century, Schipperkes became very fashionable after Queen Marie Henriette fell in love with one such dog and decided to adopt him.

They are very versatile and love to have something to do to keep their mind busy. They love spending time with their humans, but be very careful about how you raise them. You must set clear rules and limitations to avoid the developing of the small dog syndrome.

Main Highlights
  • Schipperkes are not the most social dogs, and would most likely be suspicious of strangers. They may, as well, display territorial behavior towards other dogs or people, but their suspiciousness, together with the fact that they are quite mouthy, makes them excellent watch dogs;
  • If well socialized from a young age, these dogs can get along well with most cats and dogs, and are great family pets. They  love children, as they are suitable playmates for these energetic dogs;
  • Training can be challenging if it is not consistent and does not use positive reinforcement. Schipperkes are independent and would try to challenge your authority, so you must display firm leadership. Not suitable for novice dog owners;
  • They adapt well to most living conditions as long as they get at least half an hour of daily exercise to  release the huge amount of energy. A house with a small yard would be best for them;
  • Schipperke dogs are noisy, which may be a problem when keeping them in an apartment. They may bark as an alert or just for fun;
  • These dogs are light shedders, except for two times a year, when they do shed heavily. A weekly brushing is usually enough to keep their coat looking good;
  • They live a long life, most dogs reaching about 15 years old, so you must be commited to a long relationship.
Breed History

The Schipperke history seems to date back to a 17th century shepherd dog known as Leuvenaar, commonly found in the region of Louvain, Belgium. These dogs used to weigh about 40 lb. and were used to guard flocks and goods while transporting. Leuvenaar dogs were apparently used as starters for the modern larger Black Belgian Shepherd Dogs and for the smaller Schipperke.

These dogs were among the first to have their own «specialty shows». This show began in 1690, when shoemakers were invited in the Grande Place of Brussels to display their hammered brass collars and Schipperkes.

They are frequently called «Dutch Dogs», although they are native to Belgium and are not related to any Dutch dog breed.

Schipperkes were originally called «Spitzke» or «Spitz», which was the general term for small dogs with pointed ears. Some called them «Moorke», which meant «little black animal». Most people in the U.S. mistakenly call them «Belgian Sheep Dogs» or «Belgian Barge Dogs», as they were sometimes found on fishing boats.

Initially, the name «Schipperke» was believed to mean «little boatman» in English-speaking peoples, though the original «schipper» term used in the areas  of  Brussels and Leuven meant «little shepherd».

The standard for the breed was written in 1889, and the first official records of the Schipperke were in the «Chasse et Peche» («Hunting and Fishing» in French) magazine. The original French articles were then translated in English and published in «The Stockkeeper», an English magazine.


Schipperkes are small breed dogs, with males reaching an average of 13.2 in at the withers, while females only reach about 12.3 in tall. They weigh between 6 — 19 lbs.

Personality and Character

Schipperke dogs are very energetic and alert. They are loyal to their families and won’t back down when it comes to defending their quarters. They are, indeed, territorial, and may act a bit aggressive towards other dogs if not properly socialized.

These dogs bond with their owners very well, though they may be reserved towards strangers. But their best friends will always be children of any age, whom they can play with for hours. They retain their puppy-like behavior and fun-loving personality until quite late, when they reach at least 4 or 5 years old.

Schipperkes are very intelligent and easy to train, but can often be quite strong-minded, so training may be challenging. Always use positive reinforcement and keep training sessions fun and consistent. If the dog senses you are not sure of what you ask him, he won’t do it. This also applies for regular packing order: humans, even children, should always be above dogs, to let them know they are the pack leaders.

Health and Potential Problems

Schipperke dogs are usually very healthy, with few major health concerns. Though, there are some more frequent health issues that may affect this breed, the Leg-Perthee disease is the most serious disorder they might have. Eye or joint problems may also be found occasionally. This doesn’t mean all Schipperke dogs have to have at least one of these issues, but here is what you should be careful about:

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: this term is used for a range of eye diseases triggering the gradual decaying of the retina. This will make the dog become night-blind at first, followed by gradual loss of eyesight during the day. Dogs may adapt very well to living with this condition, but it is very important to have them genetically screened for it, to avoid the perpetuation of the gene. This condition may only appear occasionally in the breed;
  • Leg-Calve-Perthee Disease: this condition is one of the most frequent in Schipperke Dogs and is usually seen in young puppies of about six months of age. It affects the hip joint by shortening the blood supply to the head of the femur, leading to the disintegration of the bone. It is a painful condition, which in time leads to limping and atrophy of the leg muscle, but usually it can be corrected though surgery;
  • Patellar Luxation (slipped stifles): this is a common problem affecting small breed dogs. This is usually a congenital disorder meaning that the femur, knee cap and tibia are not properly lined up. This may also occur later in life. You may notice that your dog is lame, or skipping and hopping his leg while walking. Mild cases may be aligned manually, but more severe ones may require surgical intervention;
  • Hip Dysplasia: usually affecting larger breeds, hip dysplasia may also appear in smaller ones. This is a hereditary condition, but it may worsen over time by a series of environmental factors, like rapid growth, jumping or falling from higher places. This condition may not be very obvious, so X-ray screening may be necessary to track it. Arthritis may develop as a dog with this condition ages, so keep a close eye on his joints, especially if you know his parents were also affected;
  • Epilepsy: these dogs may be prone to epilepsy, a disorder that may cause seizures. It is incurable, though it may be kept under control with adequate medication;
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis: This condition is the main trigger of primary hypothyroidism. It usually becomes obvious when the dog is between 2 to 5 years old, and may appear even if the dog seems clinically healthy;
  • Hypothyroidism: this is a hormonal disorder, caused by the lack of thyroid hormone. Symptoms include obesity, infertility, low energy, mental dullness, coarse fur, or the skin becoming tough and dark. This problem may be kept under control with daily medication, which has to go on throughout the dog’s life;
  • Mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIB (MPSIIIB): it is also commonly called Sanfilippo syndrome type IIIB. This condition is caused by a mutation in a certain gene, characterized by the lack of the enzyme NAGLU (N-acetyl-a-D-glucoseamminidase). Thus, the heparin sulfate molecule cannot be dismantled, leading to an accumulation of the molecule in the organism. Symptoms are difficulty walking or balancing, tremors and difficulty in avoiding obstacles. MPSIIIB usually appears when the dog is between 2 and 4 years of age and cannot be treated. This is why all Schipperke dogs must be screened for the gene, and carrying ones should never be bred;
  • Obesity: this may be a common problem in this breed, as many dogs are kept indoors as companions. Carefully adjust the food amount your dog gets and have him weighted twice a year to make sure his weight is all right.
Care Features

They are adaptable and are able to live a happy life in most homes, even small condos. Still, they are very energetic and demand at least 30 minutes of intense daily exercise or play. The best for them would be a house with at least a small yard where they can run as much as they want.

Schipperkes tolerate hot weather really hard, so provide a cool place or a fan during summer time if you live in a warm climate.

Grooming is not very hard, as these dogs usually don’t shed very much and don’t need frequent baths.

They are mainly healthy dogs, though they are prone to a series oh inherited diseases. That’s why is best to make sure you get your puppy from a responsible owner, and avoid puppy mills and pet stores. You should be able to see any health clearance of the puppy and at least one of his parents. Most responsible breeders can provide health clearance for at least both parents of the puppies they offer, and their parents’ parents as well. This is done to ensure the bad genes are bred out and only healthy dogs are being reproduced.

Feeding Schedule

You can save a lot of money by feeding your dog high-quality food that suits his particular needs. Energetic dogs, especially those from working lines, need a high-calorie diet, to help them keep up with their activities. Feeding an adequate diet will prevent them from developing food-related health issues like obesity (which is not a serious threat in this breed, though), allergies, hot spots, etc.

Being companion dogs that are usually kept indoors with less physical exercise, Schipperke dogs should only be fed about 1 1/8 to 1 7/8 cups of dry kibble per day, as they tend to put on weight. Carefully read the feeding instructions on the food package and adjust the amount if you notice your dog is putting on weight.

Pregnant or breastfeeding females should be given as much food as they want, to allow for proper development of the puppies and to make sure they have enough milk. Puppy kibble is best for them during this time, as it holds more nutrients than regular adult food.

It is best to feed Schipperke dogs two smaller meals per day instead of one large serving, to avoid bloating because of eating too fast and ingesting air together with food.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Schipperke dogs have a unique black coat in a distinctive shape, looking like a slope running from the shoulders to the end of the dog’s body. They have a double coat that only comes in solid black color. Length is different depending on the body part:

  • short on the ears, face and front of the legs;
  • medium on the body;
  • long on the neck, looking like a ruff that begins behind the ears; an additional layer forms a cape-like formation on the dog’s back, as well as a dignified «jabot» on the chest and front legs. «Cullotes» are formed on the back of the hind legs, where hair is as long as the ruff.

The Shchipperkes’ short undercoat provides insulation against cold weather conditions.

They are not heavy shedders, so a weekly brushing would be enough to keep the coat looking nice and clean and help distribute the body oils. During transition seasons, they would shed heavier, though, so more frequent brushing will be necessary. You can give them a warm bath during that time to help loosen the dead hair.

Regular bathing is not necessary, as Schipperke dogs are usually pretty clean. Usually, a bath is only a must when your dog has gone through some stinky stuff.

Teeth should be brushed at least two or three times a week to prevent bacteria and tartar from accumulating and to avoid gum disease. Trim his nails as needed, usually once or twice per month if your dog doesn’t wear them down naturally. Usually, you can guess the time to trim them when you hear them clicking on the floor as your dog walks by the house.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Schipperkes are usually very fond of children, whom they regard as great playmates. They both have high energy levels, so they can play together for hours, thus releasing all of their energy. This way, they would stay calm indoors and allow your family to have a quiet life.

Always supervise young children while playing with the dog to avoid accidental biting because of kids pulling their tails, paws and ears, especially in very young dogs. Teach them never to touch a dog while sleeping or eating, and especially to not try to take away his food, no matter how good friends they usually are. Food is food and dogs never bargain about it!

These are territorial dogs, but would still get along well with dogs if they are properly socialized from a young age. Schipperke dogs usually accept family cats around them, especially if they were raised together. They would still act reserved towards strangers, so try to introduce young pups to as many pets and people as you can to curb this behavior.

It is not questionable that Schipperkes make lovely pets, but you must pay great attention to their training and education. Always be firm and consistent and consider another breed if you know yourself to meek to manage such a mischievous dog. Prepare to spend many years together and  have a lot of fun with this «little black devil». Respect your little Schipperke and only use positive training, as they are really proud dogs and won’t react well to shaming and scolding.

If you have children in your family, you may consider this breed as a way of keeping the kids busy and entertained, as well as quiet after spending all of their energy.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.